By Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Alex Horton, The Washington Post
On Friday, the Marine Corps identified the names of the 15 Marines and one Navy sailor killed when their aircraft crashed earlier this week in the worst aviation accident for the branch in more than a decade.
The announcement comes two days after a Marine general told the public that early indications in the crash investigation point to some type of massive mechanical failure while the four-engine cargo aircraft was at cruising altitude.
(Military investigators are in trying to find out what caused a Marine refueling plane to corkscrew into a soybean field in Mississippi. All 16 onboard the plane were killed in the crash on Monday. Courtesy of CBS Evening News and YouTube)
Eyewitness said they saw the plane break apart midair before crashing in a field in western Mississippi.
Brig. Gen. Bradley James, commander of the 4th Marine Air Wing, told reporters Wednesday that the plane, a KC-130 from Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron (VMGR) 452 with the call sign Yankee 72, was flying from an airfield in North Carolina to Yuma, Ariz., to transport six Marines and one sailor from the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion, a Special Operations unit, when it went down.
Five of those from 2nd Raider Battalion were part of Marine Special Operations Team 8231, according to several active and former service members familiar with the accident.
The same team was involved in a 2015 helicopter crash in Florida.
That crash — the result of bad weather during a training exercise — left 11 dead, seven from 8231.
Although the Marines were from the same team, those who were in a second helicopter in 2015 had rotated out of the unit before Monday’s incident.
The aircraft contained the Marines’ weapons and ammunition, prompting bomb disposal teams and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to respond to the scene.
(A Marine Corps KC-130 transport aircraft crashed in LeFlore County, Miss., on July 10 at approximately 4 p.m. CDT, with 16 service members missing and presumed deceased. Courtesy of Armed Forces Archives and YouTube. Posted on Jul 15, 2017)
About 4 p.m. local time on Monday, the aircraft dropped off radar and crashed in fields near the town of Itta Bena, Miss.
There were two distinct crash sites nearly a mile apart, and the flames from the wreckage burned well into the night. One local eyewitness told the Associated Press that he heard a boom and looked up to see the aircraft tumbling out of the sky partially aflame.
(A vigil was held Saturday night honoring the 16 service members who died in a military plane crash earlier this week. Courtesy of CBS New York and YouTube)
The KC-130T is an older variant of the KC-line of cargo and refueling aircraft but is part of the broader C-130 family.
The Cold War-era plane is known for its toughness, multiple fire suppression systems and an above average safety record.
It is unclear what could have brought it down. The catastrophe occurred so suddenly the pilots were unable to make a radio call before the crash.
The names of the dead are below. Information was provided by the Marine Corps, interviews and news reports:
From Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 452, based out of Newburgh, N.Y.:
Maj. Caine M. Goyette
He was stationed with VMGR-452 and deployed to Afghanistan twice, once in 2005 and another time in 2014.
He also supported the Marines’ overseas contingency forces in 2011 and 2012.
He had three Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals and two Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals.
Capt. Sean E. Elliott
Elliot, 30, originally from Southern California, joined the Corps in 2010 and attained the rank of Captain in October 2013. Elliot earned the nickname “Puffin” after refusing to hunt the bird during a trip to Iceland, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.
His father told the Tribune that as a boy, Elliot would sleep with a model of the aircraft he would later die aboard: a C-130.
“He slept with it like you would a teddy bear. A big plane, in the bed. A silly plastic thing, with the toy soldiers inside. It went to bed with him every night for quite a long time,” his father John said. Elliott leaves behind his wife, Catherine.
Gunnery Sgt. Mark A. Hopkins
Hopkins, 34, showed up to boot camp a week before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
From Chesapeake, Va., the senior enlisted Marine held the job of tactical systems operator and was the aircraft’s mission specialist.
He deployed to Afghanistan multiple times and did time overseas on at least one humanitarian mission.
He was “one of the calmest, most easygoing, zen people in any walk of life,” said Russ Hardin, a former Marine sergeant who served as a navigator in Hopkins’s squadron, according to the New York Times. “He didn’t know how not to be a friend,” Hardin said.
Gunnery Sgt. Brendan Johnson
Johnson, 45, already put enough time in to retire by 2014, but he kept serving in what he called “the best job in the Corps,” his father, Kevin, told the Burlington Free Press.
“He loved the outdoors and he loved flying with the Marine Corps,” the elder Johnson said.
The former Boy Scout enlisted in 1994 as a loadmaster, where he played a crucial role in ensuring cargo and fuel were properly placed within the aircraft.
His last specialty was crewmaster of the KC-130 following jobs supporting operations in Afghanistan and Iraq in 2002 and 2003.
Staff Sgt. Joshua M. Snowden
Snowden, 31, served in the Marine Corps for eight years and was apparently promoted to staff sergeant on July 10.
Snowden grew up in the Dallas area as an avid fan of the Dallas Cowboys, according to local media.
He left a deep impression on Highland Park lacrosse coach Bruce Nolly.
“What a great young man and cordial, friendly guy,” Nolly told Fox 4. “He got along with everybody on the team.”
Snowden, a KC-130 crewmaster along with Johnson, earned campaign medals for supporting operations in Afghanistan and in Operation Inherent Resolve, the ongoing mission against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Sgt. Julian M. Kevianne
Detroit native Kevianne, 31, enlisted in the Marine Corps in 2009 and later supported operations in Afghanistan as a KC-130 crewmaster.
News of Kevianne’s death quickly spread, with neighbors coming to lend support, his brother, Carlo Kevianne, told the Detroit Free Press.
“The Marines knocked on my mother’s door at 2 this morning,” Kevianne told the paper.
“They said his plane went down, and they weren’t able to find him.”
Their mother, Tina Albo, carved a tribute to her son in freshly poured concrete. “Peace of my heart is in heaven,” the message read.
Sgt. Owen J. Lennon
Lennon, 26, of Pomona, N.Y., enlisted in the Marine Corps two years after graduating from high school, where he played football and tennis.
The KC-130 crewmaster flew missions in support of operations in Afghanistan in 2012.
Lennon’s older sister Kelly took to Facebook to honor her brother.
“You may have been the youngest, but we always looked up to you. Our hero, Owen Lennon. Sending love to the other USMC families that lost loved ones last night,” she wrote.
Cpl. Daniel I. Baldassare
Baldassare, 20, from Colts Neck, N.J., was just two years into his enlistment when he died and had yet to deploy.
His Facebook profile showed him in a photo wearing a football uniform and said he had worked at Wawa.
His lone “favorite quote” on the social media website is a Marine Corps adage:
“Hope for the best plan for the worst.”
Cpl. Collin J. Schaaff
Schaaff, 22, enlisted in the Marines in 2013. A native of Pierce County, Wash., Schaaff was an aircraft ordnance technician.
He had no deployments under his belt at the time of his death but was the recipient of two letters of appreciation from his command and a certificate of commendation.
He leaves behind a wife, a 1-year-old daughter and an unborn baby, according to a GoFundMe page set up to support his family.
From 2nd Marine Raider Battalion, Camp Lejeune, N.C.
Staff Sgt. Robert H. Cox
Cox, 28, of Ventura, Calif., joined the Marines in 2007.
He deployed to Iraq in 2009 and 2010, and to Afghanistan in 2011.
In 2016, he deployed again to support the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
He held the job of critical skills operator, the standard title for a Marine who has completed the months-long pipeline to become a Marine Raider.
He was a two-time recipient of the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal and the Combat Action Ribbon.
Staff Sgt. William J. Kundrat
The most senior Marine Raider aboard Yankee 72, Kundrat, 33, joined the branch in 2002, and cut his teeth in combat during the initial invasion of Iraq the following year.
He would deploy to the country again in 2005 and 2006 and a final time to fight the Islamic State in 2015.
He also deployed to Senegal in 2010. He was the recipient of a number of awards, including the Defense Meritorious Service Medal and the Combat Action Ribbon.
Sgt. Chad E. Jenson
Jenson, 25, arrived at boot camp in 2010 and picked up the rank of sergeant in just over four years, an impressive achievement for any enlisted member of the military.
Originally from Los Angeles, the Marine Raider was remembered as “genuine” and “selfless” by his high school football teammates and coach, according to an article in the Daily Breeze.
“This kid was a true American and a true patriot,” said Chuck Arrasmith, Jenson’s offensive line coach.
Sgt. Talon R. Leach
Leach, 27, a Marine Raider, began his career in 2010 and picked up the rank of sergeant in 2013.
Originally from Callaway County, Mo., Leach deployed once to fight the Islamic State in 2015.
He is a recipient of the Navy and Marine Corp Achievement Medal.
His Facebook page is sparse, but says he is married and enjoys the Canadian TV show “Trailer Park Boys,” a favorite in the Marine Corps ground combat community.
Sgt. Joseph J. Murray
Murray, 26, a Marine Raider, was born in California but spent his childhood in Jacksonville, Fla.
After starting his time on active duty in 2009, he deployed to Afghanistan twice and had received three Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals and the Combat Action Ribbon at the time of his death.
His father, Terry Murray, told his son that he wanted him to be a mechanic or an intelligence officer, according to a report in the Florida-Times Union but the future Special Operations Marine said he wanted to be an infantryman, “because that’s the hardest thing to do.”
Sgt. Dietrich A. Schmieman
Schmieman, 26, went to boot camp in 2010 and served in Okinawa before heading to North Carolina to become a Marine Raider.
Originally from Benton County, Wash. Ayrald Hubert, one of Schmieman’s good friends from Hanford High School, recalled a goofy kid in love with camping and skiing.
The first one in his friend group to get a motorcycle, Schmieman “was one of the nicest guys imaginable and his friendship extended to everyone,” Hubert said.
“He was really just an incredible human being.”
Petty Officer 2nd Class Ryan M. Lohrey
Editor’s note: Our condolences to the U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Navy. Our thoughts and prayers are with the crash victim’s families.